Albanian folk beliefs
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Albanian folk beliefs (Albanian: besimet popullore shqiptare) comprise the beliefs expressed in the customs, rituals, myths, legends and tales of the Albanian people. The elements of Albanian mythology are of Paleo-Balkanic origin and almost all of them are pagan. Albanian folklore evolved over the centuries in a relative isolated tribal culture and society. Albanian folk tales and legends have been orally transmitted down the generations and are still very much alive in the mountainous regions of Albania, Kosovo and western North Macedonia, among the Arbëreshë in Italy and the Arvanites in Greece.
In Albanian mythology, the physical phenomena, elements and objects are attributed to supernatural beings. The deities are generally not persons, but personifications of nature, which is animated. In Albanian folk beliefs, earth is the object of a special cult, and an important role is played by fire, which is considered a living, sacred or divine element used for rituals, sacrificial offerings and purification. Fire worship is associated with the cult of the Sun, the cult of the hearth and the cult of fertility in agriculture and animal husbandry. Beja is a common practice in Albanian culture, consisting of an oath taken by Sun, by Moon, by sky, by earth, by stone, by mountain, by water and by snake, which are all considered sacred objects. The cult of the Sun and Moon appears also in Albanian legends and folk art.
Albanian myths and legends are organized around the dichotomy of good and evil, the most famous representation of which is the legendary battle between drangue and kulshedra, a metaphoric cyclic return in the watery and chthonian world of death, accomplishing the cosmic renewal of rebirth, while the wavers of destiny, ora or fatí, establish the order of the universe and enforce its laws.
A very common motif in Albanian folk narrative is metamorphosis: men morph into deer, wolves, owls; while women morph into stoats, cuckoos, turtles. Among the main bodies of Albanian folk poetry there are the Kângë Kreshnikësh ("Songs of Heroes"), the traditional non-historical cycle of Albanian epic songs, based on the cult of the legendary hero.
Albanian myths and legends are already attested in works written in Albanian as early as the 15th century, however, the systematic collection of Albanian folklore material began only in the 19th century.
One of the first Albanian collectors from Italy was the Arbëresh writer Girolamo De Rada who—already imbued with a passion for his Albanian lineage in the first half of the 19th century—began collecting folklore material at an early age. Another important Arbëresh publisher of Albanian folklore was the linguist Demetrio Camarda, who included in his 1866 Appendice al Saggio di grammatologia comparata (Appendix to the Essay on the Comparative Grammar) specimens of prose, and in particular, Arbëreshë folk songs from Sicily and Calabria, Albania proper and Albanian settlements in Greece. De Rada and Camarda were the two main initiators of the Albanian nationalist cultural movement in Italy. In Greece, the Arvanite writer Anastas Kullurioti published Albanian folklore material in his 1882 Albanikon alfavêtarion / Avabatar arbëror (Albanian Spelling Book).
The Albanian National Awakening (Rilindja) gave rise to collections of folklore material in Albania in the second half of the 19th century. One of the early Albanian collectors of Albanian folklore from Albania proper was Zef Jubani. From 1848 he served as interpreter to French consul in Shkodra, Louis Hyacinthe Hécquard, who was very interested in folklore and decided to prepare a book on northern Albanian folklore. They travelled through the northern Albanian mountains and recorded folklore material which were published in French translation in the 1858 Hécquard's pioneering Histoire et description de la Haute Albanie ou Guégarie (History and Description of High Albania or Gegaria”). Jubani's own first collection of folklore—the original Albanian texts of the folk songs published by Hécquard—was lost in the flood that devastated the city of Shkodra on 13 January 1866. Jubani published in 1871 his Raccolta di canti popolari e rapsodie di poemi albanesi (Collection of Albanian Folk Songs and Rhapsodies)—the first collection of Geg folk songs and the first folkloristik work to be published by an Albanian who lived in Albania.
Another important Albanian folklore collector was Thimi Mitko, a prominent representative of the Albanian community in Egypt. He began to take an interest in folklore in 1859 and started recording Albanian folklore material from the year 1866, providing also folk songs, riddles and tales for Demetrio Camarda's collection. Mitko's own collection of Albanian folklore—including 505 folk songs, and 39 tales and popular sayings, mainly from southern Albania—was finished in 1874 and published in the 1878 Greek-Albanian journal Alvaniki melissa / Belietta Sskiypetare (The Albanian Bee). This compilation was a milestone of Albanian folk literature being the first collection of Albanian folklore material of scholarly interest. Indeed Mitko compiled and classified the material according to genres, including sections on fairy tales, fables, anecdotes, children's songs, songs of seasonal festivities, love songs, wedding songs, funerary songs, epic and historical songs. Mitko relized his collection collaborating with Spiro Risto Dine who emigrated to Egypt in 1866. Dino published himself Valët e Detit (The Waves of the Sea), which at the time of its publication in 1908 was the longest book printed in the Albanian language. The second part of Dine's collection was devoted to folk literature, including love songs, wedding songs, funerary songs, satirical verse, religious and didactic verses, folk tales, aphorisms, rhymes, popular beliefs and mythology.
The first Albanian folklorist to collect oral tradition in a more systematic manner for scholarly purposes was the Franciscan priests and scholar Shtjefën Gjeçovi. Two other Franciscan priests, Bernardin Palaj and Donat Kurti, along with Gjeçovi, collected folk songs on their travels through the northern Albanian mountains and wrote articles on Gheg Albanian folklore and tribal customs. Palaj and Kurti published in 1937—on the 25th anniversary of Albanian independence—the most important collection of Albanian epic verse, Kângë kreshnikësh dhe legenda (Songs of the Frontier Warriors and Legends), in the series called Visaret e Kombit (The Treasures of the Nation).
From the second half of the 20th century much research has been done by the Academy of Albanological Studies of Tirana and by the Albanological Institute of Prishtina. Albanian scholars have published numerous collections of Albanian oral tradition, but only a little part of this material has been translated into other languages. A substantial contribution in this direction has been made by the Albanologist Robert Elsie.
Foreign scholars first provided Europe with Albanian folklore in the second half of the 19th century, and thus set the beginning for the scholarly study of Albanian oral tradition. Albanian folk songs and tales were recorded by the Austrian consul in Janina, Johann Georg von Hahn, who travelled throughout Albania and the Balkans in the middle of the 19th century and in 1854 he published Albanesische Studien (Albanian Studies). The German physician Karl H. Reinhold collected Albanian folklore material from Albanian sailors while he was serving as a doctor in the Greek navy and in 1855 he published Noctes Pelasgicae (Pelasgian Nights). The folklorist Giuseppe Pitrè published in 1875 a selection of Albanian folk tales from Sicily in Fiabe, novelle e racconti popolari siciliani (Sicilian Fables, Short Stories and Folk Tales).
The next generation of scholars who became interested in collecting Albanian folk material were mainly philologists, among them the Indo-European linguists concerned about the study of the then little known Albanian language. The French consul in Janina and Thessalonika, Auguste Dozon, published Albanian folk tales and songs initially in the 1879 Manuel de la langue chkipe ou albanaise (Manual of the Shkip or Albanian Language) and in the 1881 Contes albanais, recueillis et traduits (Albanian Tales, Collected and Translated). The Czech linguist and professor of Romance languages and literature, Jan Urban Jarnik, published in 1883 Albanian folklore material from the region of Shkodra in Zur albanischen Sprachenkunde (On Albanian Linguistics) and Příspěvky ku poznání nářečí albánských uveřejňuje (Contributions to the Knowledge of Albanian Dialects). The German linguist and professor at the University of Graz, Gustav Meyer, published in 1884 fourteen Albanian tales in Albanische Märchen (Albanian Tales), and a selection of Tosk tales in the 1888 Albanian grammar (1888). His folklore material was republished in his Albanesische Studien (Albanian Studies). Danish Indo-Europeanist and professor at the University of Copenhagen, Holger Pedersen, visited Albania in 1893 to learn the language and to gather linguistic material. He recorded thirty-five Albanian folk tales from Albania and Corfu and published them in the 1895 Albanesische Texte mit Glossar (Albanian Texts with Glossary). Other Indo-European scholars who collected Albanian folklore material were German linguists Gustav Weigand and August Leskien.
In the first half of the 20th century, British anthropologist Edith Durham visited northern Albania and collected folklore material on the Albanian tribal society. She published in 1909 her notable work High Albania, regarded as one of the best English-language books on Albania ever written. From 1923 onward, Scottish scholar and anthropologist Margaret Hasluck collected Albanian folklore material when she lived in Albania. She published sixteen Albanian folk-stories translated in English in her 1931 Këndime Englisht–Shqip or Albanian–English Reader.
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The elements of Albanian mythology are of Paleo-Balkanic origin and almost all of them are pagan. Ancient Illyrian religion is considered to be one of the sources from which Albanian legend and folklore evolved, reflecting a number of parallels with Ancient Greek and Roman mythologies. Albanian legend shows also similarities with neighbouring Indo-European traditions, such as the oral epics with the South Slavs and the folk tales with the Greeks.
Albanian mythology inherited the Indo-European narrative epic genre about past warriors, a tradition shared with early Greece, classical India, early medieval England, medieval Germany and South Slavs. Albanian folk beliefs also retained the typical Indo-European tradition of the deities located on the highest and most inaccessible mountains (Mount Tomor), the sky, lightning, weather and fire deities (Zojz, Perëndi, Shurdh, Verbt, En, Vatër, Nëna e Vatrës), the "Daughter of the Sun and Moon" legend (Bija e Hanës e Diellit), the "serpent-slaying" and "fire in water" myths (Drangue and Kulshedra), the Fates and Destiny goddesses (Zana, Ora, Fatí, Mira) and the guard of the gates of the Underworld (the three-headed dog who never sleeps).
Albanian folklore traces back to Paleo-Balkan mythology including a substrate of Illyrian religion. A number of parallels are found with Ancient Greek and Roman mythologies. Albanians were christianized under Roman Catholic influence likely in the fourth and fifth centuries. In later times, after the Gheg–Tosk split, they became Catholic in the north and Orthodox in the South.
In a text compiled around the beginning of the 11th century in the Bulgarian language, the Albanians are mentioned with their old ethnonym Arbanasi as half-believers. Islam was first introduced to Albania in the 15th century after the Ottoman conquest of the area. In Ottoman times, often to escape higher taxes levied on Christian subjects, the majority of Albanians became Muslims. However one part retained Christian and pre-Christian beliefs. British poet Lord Byron (1788–1824) described Albanian religious belief as follows: "The Greeks hardly regard them as Christians, or the Turks as Muslims; and in fact they are a mixture of both, and sometimes neither."
Between the 16th and 18th centuries, in Albania arrived also the Bektashi Sufi order which spread widely among Albanians in part because it allowed itself to be a vehicle for the expression of Crypto-Christian and pagan beliefs and rituals. Bektashism is a Muslim pantheistic dervish order (tariqat) thought to have originated in the 13th century in a frontier region of Anatolia, where Christianity, Islam and paganism coexisted, allowing the incorporation of comparable pagan and non-Muslim beliefs into popular Islam. It facilitated the conversion process to the new Muslims and became the official order of the Janissaries. After the ban of all the Sufi orders in Turkey in 1925, the Bektashi Order established its headquarters in Tirana. Since its founding in 1912, Albania has been a secular state, becoming atheist during the Communist regime, and returning secular after the fall of the regime.
Albanian folklore evolved over the centuries in a relative isolated tribal culture and society, and although there have been all these changes in the Albanian belief system, an ancient substratum of pre-Christian beliefs has survived until today. Folk tales, myths and legends have been orally transmitted down the generations and are still very much alive in the mountainous regions of Albania, Kosovo and western North Macedonia, among the Arbëreshë in Italy and the Arvanites in Greece.
Good and Evil, Cosmic Renewal
Burn, fire, hearth
- Serpentine dragons
- Angu (shapeless ghost who appears in dreams)
- Avullushe (spirits that suffocate people with their breath)
- Bariu i mirë (the good shepherd)
- Baloz (dark knight, huge monster)
- Bushtra (bad omen-wishing female witch)
- Çakalloz (mighty being, slightly deranged hero)
- Dhampir (half-vampire, half-human)
- Dhevështruesi (half human and half animal)
- Dhamsutë (deaf and dumb mare)
- Divi (ogre)
- Flama (restless evil ghost)
- Gogol (bogeyman)
- Hajnjeri (man eating giant)
- Judi (giant ghost)
- Kacamisri (similar to Tom Thumb)
- Karkanxholl (werewolf)
- Katallan (giant)
- Katravesh (the four-eared one, man-eating monster)
- Kolivilor (demon similar to an incubus)
- Kore (child eating demon)
- Kukudh (plague demon)
- Lahin (dwarf-like goblin))
- Laura (shapeshifting swamp hag)
- Lugat (revenant)
- Magjí (evil woman, old hag))
- Makth (nightmare ghost that suffocates people during sleep)
- Pëlhurëza (veil ghost)
- Qeros (Scurfhead)
- Qose (Barefaced Man)
- Rrqepta (similar to a beast)
- Rusale (mermaid)
- Shtriga (vampiric witch)
- Syqeni (the Doggy Eyed, a wizard)
- Thopçi or Herri (gnome)
- Three headed dog (Cerberus)
- Vurvolaka (werewolves)
- Xhindi (jinn)
The Albanian terms for "hero" are trim (female: trimneshë), kreshnik or hero (female: heroinë). Some of the main heroes of the Albanian epic songs, legends and myths are:
- Zjerma and Handa: protagonists of the heroic folktale "The Twins". Zjerma (lit. "fire") was born with the sun in the forehead, while Handa (lit. "moon") was born with the moon in the forehead. They have two horses and two dogs as companions, and two silver swords as weapons
- Muji and Halili, protagonists of epic cycle of the Kângë Kreshnikësh
- Gjergj Elez Alia
- Little Constantine
The Albanian heroic songs are substantially permeated by the concepts contained in the Kanun, a code of Albanian oral customary laws: honour, considered as the highest ideal in Albanian society; shame and dishonour, regarded as worse than death; besa and loyalty, gjakmarrja.
Another characteristic of Albanian heroic songs are weapons. Their importance and the love which the heroes have for them are carefully represented in the songs, while they are rarely described phisically. A common feature appearing in these songs is the desire for fame and glory, which is related to the courage of a person.
- Dita e Verës (Verëza): "The Summer Day", an Albanian spring festival celebrated on March 1 of the Julian calendar (March 14 of the Gregorian calendar). In the old Albanian calendar it corresponds to the first day of the new year (Albanian: Kryeviti, Kryet e Motmotit, Motmoti i Ri, Nata e Mojit) and marks the end of the winter season (the second half of the year) and the beginning of the summer season (the first half of the year) on the spring equinox. Another festival of the spring equinox is Nowruz (Albanian: Dita e Sulltan Nevruzit) celebrated on March 21.
- Nata e Buzmit: "Yule log's night" celebrated about the time of the winter solstice, between December 22 and January 6. In Albanian beliefs it marks the return of the sun for summer and the lengthening of the days.
List of folk tales, legends, songs and ballads
- Marigo of the Forty Dragons
- For the Love of a Dove
- The Silver Tooth
- The Snake Child
- The Maiden who was Promised to the Sun
- The Grateful Snake and the Magic Case
- The Jealous Sisters
- The Princess of China
- The Foolish Youth and the Ring
- The Barefaced Man and the Pasha's Brother
- The Boy with No Name
- Half Rooster
- Gjizar the Nightingale
- The Snake and the King's Daughter
- The Bear and the Dervish
- The King's Daughter and the Skull
- The Stirrup Moor
- The Tale of the Youth who Understood the Language of the Animals
- The Maiden in the Box
- The Girl who Became a Boy
- The Shoes
- The Youth and the Maiden with Stars on their Foreheads and Crescents on their Breasts
- The Three Brothers and the Three Sisters
- The Three Friends and the Earthly Beauty
- The Scurfhead
- The Boy and the Earthly Beauty
- The Twins
- The Daughter of the Moon and Sun (version with kulshedra)
- The Daughter of the Moon and Sun (version with the king's son)
- The Daughter of the Sun
- The Serpent
- Seven Spans of Beard and Three Spans of Body
- The Skilful Brothers
- The Tale of the Eagle
- Aga Ymer of Ulcinj
- Ali Dost Dede of Gjirokastra
- Baba Tomor
- Mujo and Halili cycle
- Gjergj Elez Alia
- Sari Salltëk
- Scanderbeg and Ballaban
- Shega and Vllastar
- The Lover's Grave
- Legend of Jabal-i Alhama
- Princess Argjiro
- Nora of Kelmendi
- The Legend of Rozafa
- Revenge Taken on Kastrati – a Legend of the Triepshi Tribe
- The Founding of the Kelmendi Tribe
- The Founding of the Kastrati Tribe
- The Founding of the Hoti and Triepshi Tribes
Songs and Ballads
- Bonnefoy 1993, p. 253.
- Elsie 2001, pp. vii-viii.
- Elsie 1994, p. i.
- Elsie 2001b, p. ix.
- Bonnefoy 1993, pp. 253–254.
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- Poghirc 1987, p. 178.
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- Tirta 2004, pp. 68–69, 135, 176–181, 249–261, 274–282, 327.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 42–102, 238–239, 318.
- Elsie 2001, pp. 35–36, 193, 244.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 68–82.
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- Poghirc 1987, p. 179.
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- Kondi 2017, p. 279.
- Skendi 1964, pp. 27–28. sfn error: no target: CITEREFSkendi1964 (help)
- Skendi 1964, pp. 7–10. sfn error: no target: CITEREFSkendi1964 (help)
- Skendi 1967, pp. 116–117.
- Elsie 2007, pp. 1–2.
- Elsie 2007, p. 2.
- Elsie 2007, p. 3.
- Elsie & Mathie-Heck 2004, p. xi.
- Elsie 2010, p. 255.
- Elsie 2007, p. 1.
- Elsie 2010, p. 120.
- Elsie 2010, p. 185.
- Stipčević 1977, p. 74.
- West 2007, pp. 288.
- Wilkes 1995, p. 280.
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- Treimer 1971, pp. 31–33.
- West 2007, p. 233.
- West 2007, pp. 385–386.
- West 2007, pp. 392.
- Matzinger 2018, p. 1792.
- Elsie 2003, p. 3.
- Esposito 2004, p. 20.
- Kressing & Kaser 2002, p. 72.
- Skendi 1967, pp. 244–245.
- Elsie 2019, p. 116.
- Skendi 1967b, pp. 12–13.
- Minkov 2004, pp. 103–104.
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- Elsie 2001, p. 244.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 61–62.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 87–110.
- Watkins 1995, pp. 164.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 116–121.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 82–83, 100–102.
- Demiraj 1997, pp. 431–432.
- Mann 1977, p. 72.
- Mann 1952, p. 32.
- Feizi 1929, p. 82.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 258–259.
- Elsie 2001, pp. 238–259.
- Elsie 2001, p. 161.
- Elsie 2001, pp. 241–242.
- Elsie 2001, pp. 46–47, 74–76, 153–156.
- Elsie 2001, pp. 79–81.
- Elsie 2001, pp. 257–259.
- Elsie 2001, pp. 252–254.
- Elsie 2001, p. 176.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 147–152, 239, 409.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 167–268.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 111–121, 243, 273, 398.
- Lurker 2004, p. 207. sfn error: no target: CITEREFLurker2004 (help)
- Elsie 2001b, pp. 165–169.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 115, 132.
- Elsie 2001b, pp. 22, 48, 130.
- Demiraj 1997, p. 206.
- Novik 2015, p. 268.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 176–181.
- Tirta 2004, p. 37.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 152–156.
- Elsie 2001, pp. 48–49.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 67–68.
- Elsie 2001, pp. 101, 191.
- Elsie 2001, p. 260.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 62–68.
- Skendi 1954.
- Watkins 1995, p. 67.
- Elsie 2001b, pp. 35–36.
- Watkins 1995, pp. pp=83, 164, 443.
- Elsie 2001, p. 191.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 358–391.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 135, 199–200, 227–243.
- Doja 2000.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 199–200, 205.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 169, 205, 227.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 19, 20, 66–68, 145–170.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 26, 66, 324–326.
- Poghirc 1987, p. 179–180.
- Elsie 2001, p. 193.
- Pipa 1978, p. 55.
- Elsie 2001, p. 240.
- Elsie 2001, pp. 160–161.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 132–137.
- Elsie 2001, pp. 18–19.
- Tirta 2004, p. 407.
- Elsie 2001, pp. 20–21.
- Elsie 2001, p. 49.
- Elsie 2001, p. 50.
- Elsie 2001, pp. 68–69.
- Elsie 2001, p. 69.
- Elsie 2001, p. 71.
- Elsie 2001, p. 90.
- Elsie 2001, p. 107.
- Elsie 2001, p. 103.
- Elsie 2001, p. 140.
- Elsie 2001, p. 150.
- Elsie 2001, pp. 150–151.
- Elsie 2001, p. 151.
- Elsie 2001, p. 152.
- Elsie 2001, p. 153.
- Elsie 2001, p. 158.
- Elsie 2001, pp. 162–163.
- Elsie 2001, p. 164.
- Elsie 2001b, pp. 155, 230.
- Elsie 2001b, pp. 22–23.
- Novik 2015, p. 266.
- Elsie 2001, p. 236.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 111, 193–194.
- Elsie 2001, p. 113.
- Elsie 2001, p. 79.
- Elsie 2001, p. 134.
- Skendi 1954, pp. 83, 86–91.
- Skendi 1954, pp. 91–92.
- Elsie 2001, pp. 36–40.
- Elsie 2001, pp. 166–171.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 307–313.
- Elsie 2001, p. 215.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 216–227.
- Kondi 2017, pp. 277–288.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 253–255.
- Elsie 2001, pp. 259–260.
- Tirta 2004, pp. 249–251.
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